Our phones. They do so much for us. They’re our alarm clocks in the morning, they allow us to check on a late family member or friend when they don’t come home on time, and they make it possible to capture special moments with just one press of the screen. It’s never been so easy to watch a video tutorial on how to replace a driver’s-side car shock that was destroyed by an unavoidable pothole exactly five-hundred feet deep; a pothole so stealthy and evil, it maliciously calls your name every time you have to drive by it again, a pothole that will now and forever haunt you in your dreams. . .
But this post is not about potholes. . . back to the original topic: our phones are capable of so much that they can easily become a main focus in our lives. We can depend on them way too much and eventually think of them as a necessity of life. The reason they were created in the first place was to allow easier communication between people, but in the cellphone’s journey to 2022, its purpose seems to have changed.
I don’t know if this happens to you, but I’ve noticed that any time there’s a lull in the day or when I’m just sitting and waiting for something (like in the car or a waiting room), I open my phone to waste time. Apps like Instagram, Pinterest, and YouTube (among many others) are specially designed to keep its audience’s attention from the first moment we open it, and we often end up giving them too much of our precious time. It’s hard not to automatically use our phones to distract ourselves, whether we want to be distracted or not. It just becomes a habit, a way of going about our day. We open our phone and who knows what time it will be when we finally look up again. Today, smartphones are created to be addictive and there’s never been a time in history when so much of the population is just sitting, distracted by such a large amount of fruitless digital content.
So now that I’ve ranted and raged over the problem, I offer an easy solution (insert Professor Harold Hill singing “Ya’ Got Trouble”). The first step to spending less time on your phone is simple: move your icons.
For the app your finger most often gravitates toward when idle, just move that icon to a different place on your phone, even onto another page if you want. This way, you can’t, through muscle memory, open it. You’ll have to make a conscious effort to find the icon, and this is your new signal. Each time you go looking for that one app, you can stop yourself and decide to spend some time OFF your phone.
Personally, I switched out my icons and put my Bible app where I usually keep Instagram. I was amazed at how many times I mindlessly opened it because it was in that specific location. Every time I would go for Instagram, I’d click on the Bible app in its place, so I’d read a few verses instead. It really worked, to just move or replace those most popular icons.
Step 2: turn off your notifications.
Go into settings and block the notifications that are most likely going to get your attention. Of course, you can choose which ones you want to leave on, ones that are actually helpful and not merely a distraction. The idea is just to limit the number of possibilities of you seeing something enticing and clicking on it. It’s the “out of sight out of mind” deal. A lot of apps have detailed settings that allow specific/custom notifications to go through, but not all of them, which will definitely lower your chances of mysteriously finding yourself on your phone again.
Step 3: find something else to do with your time.
Once you’ve already eliminated some notifications (step 2), moved your app icons (step 1), then gone to press the icons and realized they weren’t there anymore, that’s your cue to start breaking an old habit (step 3). Below is a list of six things you can do instead of spending time on your phone. All of them can be done while just sitting, waiting, at home, in the car, indoors, outdoors, anytime and anywhere. Instead of falling into that tendency of receiving input, these things are “output,” things that will get your brain to work differently than when it’s just staring into a little screen.
This one is a bit obvious and the most common alternative. Books are easy to transport and there are about one hundred million to choose from. Now technically, reading is still “input,” however much easier on the eyes than a phone. Also, books can’t run out of battery. My family has this thing about not leaving the house without a book to read, just in case. You never want to be stranded someplace without a good book nearby.
I know some people just don’t like to read, and that’s totally fine. If that someone happens to be you, then what you need are puzzle books! Sudokus, crosswords, and trivia puzzles are great options. A whole book of them can cost only 99 cents and you can find them at almost any store, not just bookstores. They’re even sometimes stocked in the magazine section in the grocery store. Puzzle books are “output” and thought-provoking things to do and they’re actually pretty fun. Sudokus are my favorite since it’s all about deducing. Just easy enough for me to do and tricky enough to make me feel smart 🙂
This is a favorite of mine. All you need it a pen and paper (a napkin works if necessary). Spend your time making to-do lists for today, tomorrow, next month, or next year. Big goals or little tasks you know you need to get done. Write it all down. Meal lists, errand lists, a list of your favorite films, it really doesn’t matter. You don’t have to have something extremely important to write down to make a list, it can be something as insignificant as a list of all the times you visited “blank” or the days you were the happiest you’ve ever been. It not only gets your mind motivated to think, but it can also bring back some special memories. A grocery-list or the best-moments-of-your-life-list, either one is sufficient. Choose your fancy.
My portable hobbies are knitting and creative writing. Perfect for waiting or traveling. Both only require two different items each: knitting needles and yarn, and a pen and a notebook. Both hobbies are creative and productive and to me, very enjoyable. They’re not too difficult to carry around and when stuck in a waiting situation, they both keep my mind occupied and content. If two knitting needles and a ball of yarn are too bulky to carry, try crocheting, which only uses one small hook. And the yarn you can always wrap around a piece of cardboard so that it’s flat and transportable (and can’t roll away, which can be very embarrassing when in public, speaking from experience).
I’m terrible at drawing, the most I can do are pine trees on a hilly horizon, maybe some snowy mountain peaks in the background, and a full moon hanging above. Or stick figures. I’m pretty good at those. No matter your skill level, drawing is a highly creative activity with which to amuse yourself, and no, it doesn’t have to be a masterpiece. If drawing scenes or people is not your forte, then draw floorplans. You can design a new floorplan or try to put on paper the blueprints of your own house. It will definitely entertain you, trying to imagine the layout from above. You can draw it how it is now, or how you might want to try it in the future by moving the furnishings around. Again, all you need is a pen and paper.
This one might be tough, but super fun. No pen or knitting needles required, only perfectly square pieces of paper and a fantastic memory. Putting it that way makes it sound difficult, but really all you need is a small pocket-size origami book with the paper already included. Inside, half the book is filled with rip out sheets and the other half with directions to make the origami. Even without square paper, you can still make origami with any other kind (including dollar bills). It’s also fun to see what you can make without directions. (I could probably make a swan by memory if I really thought about it, but then again it might just come out as a paper airplane).
And lastly. . .
This is for when you’re bored, alone, have none of the above resources, and only have with you your trusty smartphone. If you need to occupy yourself, but can’t think of anything else to do, not a single thing, then you can stay on your phone. BUT, you have to be productive. Clean up the device storage space and memory, organize those rogue photos that could easily be put into categorized files, delete old stuff you don’t want anymore, change your lock/home screen, get rid of unused apps and old voicemails, anything that is productive and beneficial to your life. If you finish that within a few minutes and you’re still bored, call or text someone you haven’t talked to in a while. Check on them, see what they’re up to. Use your phone for its first intended use, communication. Talk to another person. That way you can still be spending your time wisely and with someone you enjoy being with, even though they’re not physically with you at the time.
I think we can each try to be more meaningful with how we spend our time, especially when it comes to those pesky handheld distraction devices. Now, let’s see if I practice what I preach and spend my time more wisely when it comes to getting distracted by my phone. . .
What are some ways you like to spend waiting time, without being on your phone?
Do you like drawing floorplans for fun?
Have you, likewise, a hatred for relentless potholes?